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Perfect Dutch Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

When I was younger, I spent 3 whole summers during college living in the wilderness or on a river. The primary method of cooking was by Dutch Oven.  Just the thought of it evokes memories of campfire smells, laughter, good friends and fabulous dutch oven cookin’.

As we’ve raised our family, dutch oven cooking is something that we regularly do.  It doesn’t matter the time or season, indoors or out, we will pull out the cast iron beauty if only to be transported to the outdoors and all the times we spent in them.

We often do dutch oven for groups or kids camps.  The one dutch oven food that everyone wants to eat is Pineapple Upside Down Cake.  But, it can be frustrating getting it cooked correctly and out of the dutch oven so that classic, beautiful look is maintained.  I learned a valuable trick from a seasoned river rat that solves that problem every time…

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

This is the simplified recipe using a standard yellow cake mix, because what I would really like to get across is how to get the cake out easily.  It also works with other dutch oven cake recipes, but I would not use it on a cobbler recipe where really wet ingredients are in contact with it.  Think peaches in juice or similar.

You’ll need:

  • 12 inch dutch oven, seasoned or ceramic dutch oven for indoors
  • 25 charcoal briquettes, lit and burnt to white around the edges
  • 1 yellow or pineapple cake mix mixed according to directions
  • 1 can pineapple rings
  • 1 jar maraschino cherries
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • paper towels
  • oil

For the charcoal briquettes, light ’em up about the same time as you begin to mix the cake batter.

Ensure that the dutch oven is clean and seasoned with a thin coating of oil wiped onto it with a paper towel.

Mix the batter according to directions.  I use the pineapple juice from the pineapple rings for some of the liquid.  (For lower fat option, you can substitute applesauce for oil/butter in recipe because we will use butter in the topping and oil for the paper towel layer.)

Drain your pineapple and cherries, measure the brown sugar and butter, and get your oil and paper towels. Now you are ready to assemble.

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The Paper Towel Trick

This is the secret to a perfect Pineapple Upside Down Cake. Many recipes will have you add a bunch of oil to the dutch oven so the cake comes out. The problem is, frequently one part of the cake will stick and the whole cake is shredded or breaks. Plus, I think it makes it too greasy. I’ve also tried a method where you put water in the bottom with an “elevated” aluminum foil floor. It ended in disaster!

This way is much simpler and I don’t remember it ever failing. Take a piece of paper towel and dip it in oil. Place it in dutch oven one at a time until you have lined the dutch oven. Smooth them out as best you can. As I side note, I have never tried this in a conventional 9×13 cake pan indoors, but I have no doubt that it would work for that as well.

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Arrange the pineapple and cherries in a design of your choice, then sprinkle with brown sugar and dot with butter.

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Pour in batter and smooth out to an even layer. You can see a few wrinkles here in the paper towel which some will flatten down with the batter, if not, it adds a rustic edge. Summer was helping me do it to pass off a project.

Bake outdoors using 8 coals on the bottom, 17 coals on top of dutch oven, (or indoors at 350 degrees for around 45 minutes).  I start testing mine at about 40 minutes, and depending on the coals, it can take up to an hour.

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When your toothpick comes out almost clean, the cake is done.  Remove from coals and let cool for about 5 minutes.  Remove lid and place plate over the top of dutch oven.  Have someone help you as you flip the dutch oven over allowing the cake to settle onto the plate.

The paper towels should come out with the cake as it slides from the dutch oven slick as a whistle.  Then, simply peel the towels off and voila, perfect Pineapple Upside Down Cake, no greasy texture, and a dutch oven that’s easy to clean.

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It’s delicious! Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

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